EU set to consider temporary extension of glyphosate license over cancer row

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will propose a temporary 12 to 18 month extension of EU authorization for the weed killer glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s Roundup, to allow time for a new scientific study into fears it may cause cancer.

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After failing to win support for an initial proposal for a 15-year approval, the EU executive proposed the compromise to avoid a six-month phase-out period when the current license lapses at the end of June.

The proposal will be put to a vote by experts from the 28 EU nations on Monday.

“The ball is now in the member state court,” the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said.

The compromise could enable member states that opposed license renewal, such as France, to change their position, EU sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

If the new proposal fails to win support from the 28 EU nations, it will go to an appeal committee vote, although the compromise says the Commission can take a decision regardless of what emerges from the committee.

Andriukaitis said he hoped a study by the European Union’s Agency for Chemical Products (ECHA) would allay health concerns following a transatlantic row over whether glyphosate may cause cancer.

“Under the EU law, the last word belongs to the ECHA,” Andriukaitis told reporters in Brussels.

Contradictory findings on the carcinogenic risks of glyphosate by scientific bodies and public campaigning by citizens’ groups and non-governmental organizations have thrust glyphosate into the center of a dispute among EU and U.S. politicians, regulators and researchers. In May, German chemicals group Bayer offered $62 billion to buy U.S. seeds company Monsanto, despite German resistance to glyphosate and Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds.

Experts from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) said last month glyphosate was unlikely to pose a risk to humans exposed to it through food. It is mostly used on crops.

The finding matches that of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent agency funded by the European Union, but runs counter to a March 2015 study by the WHO’s Lyon-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

That agency said glyphosate was probably able to cause cancer in humans and classified it as a ‘Group 2A’ carcinogen. It said it assessed whether the substance can cause cancer in any way - regardless of real-life conditions on typical levels of human exposure or consumption.

Editing by Barbara Lewis and Adrian Croft